If you want to determine the quality of your water, you should test it. Sure, the water data available on MyTapWater.org’s website will be very helpful, but it’s just part of the picture. A water testing kit will give you the rest of it.
Why Testing Matters
This website has public water data, available at the water supply level. While this is very important data, it’s limited. Why’s that? It’s as simple as you’d expect…
First of all, many people use well water. Private wells are don’t utilize the public water system, so we have not records of their contaminants on this website and the EPA doesn’t have access either.
Second, things can happen to your drinking water between the water source and your faucet. This might be a coliform bacteria that is a result of a cracked pipe along the way or something wrong with the pipes in your home. Your faucet itself might be the problem! The only way to know is by testing the drinking water where you get it, as if you were about to drink it.
Test Kit Types, Advantages, and Disadvantages
- municipal testing done by something from your water supply, township, or county
- private testing done by a local water testing company
- mail-in testing done by a private company with results determined by an independent laboratory
- test kits done entirely at home
In this article we’ll be focused on the last types, mail-in tests and at-home kits.
The advantages of mail-in test kits for water testing are quite clear: you get professional lab results more quickly and for less money than if you were to use the other two methods. This is largely because of the simple reason that a person does not need to drive to your home and collect the water themselves. Also, the water can be mailed off to a facility that might be more affordable than the one in your area. This way the company that runs the test kit can shop around, where otherwise you are restricted to your local labs.
There are some disadvantages with mail-in tests as well.
First of all, you are largely on your own to determine the type of kit you need and what you should be testing for. The most water impurities you are testing for, the most the test costs. A local water professional will know the popular contaminants in your area and will ensure your test focuses on them, instead of you testing for things that definitely won’t be there.
Also, mail-in tests may offer very limited help in understanding the results you get. They might be directionally accurate and there may be some nuance to the results, so determining a course of action based on unclear findings can be difficult.
DIY At-Home Water Test Kits
Some test kits don’t require to you mail them in, but rather you run the tests yourself right after collecting the water. If you have a pool and you’ve tested the water, say for pH or chlorine levels, you’ll be somewhat familiar with the concept.
At-home testing with a kit you buy online is very affordable but it lacks local expertise and lacks professional guidance. Determining the tests you need to conduct and then if the test kits you bought are of sufficiently high quality for your specific needs might require more research or expertise than you are willing to commit at the moment.
Lastly, this types of kits can’t test for everything — determining some results simply requires a professional laboratory, so you are limited in what you can do.
All that said, there is a time and place for at-home test kits.
Top Water Test Kits
If you are looking for a test kit, there are some clear picks you should consider…
Tap Score by SimpleWater Labs
One of the top picks in home water test kits right now is the Tap Score kit. These are a high-end product which ranges in price from $140 to $750, depending on how many contaminants you are testing for.
One popular item in their line-up is the Essential Well Water Test, which costs about $170 and tests for 52 parameters (some are calculated results so the actual number of minerals and compounds tested for is less than 52). The $250 Advanced well water kit increased this number to 112 tests, largely accounting for a number of VOCs and oil/gas byproducts.
Tests are conducted by professional laboratories which are fully accredited to ISO specifications with the US state and agency (for example Department of Health) certifications. Basically you can rest assured that your tests are being conducted properly.
Results are delivered to you online, using an intuitive set of results that you can easily review on your phone. The test results can be simplified to a simple number if you want to stay high level or you can get into specifics if you really want to dig into the science.
Simply put, when in need of a water testing kit, this is the one we’d buy. This is even a good option for your yearly water testing at a vacation home that uses well water, as Tap Score has specific tests designed for wells.
There are other options that exist if you want a home water testing kit. Some of the popular alternatives to the Tap Score kit are:
These options deliver full tests with professional lab-tested results. These aren’t kits where you are testing at home with limited accuracy and a small number of impurities being checked for.
Water Testing On A Budget
If you are on a budget and want to keep costs to an absolute minimum (likely because you feel there is little risk) then you can save a lot of money by using a test kit that doesn’t need to be mailed off to a lab. This will greatly restrict what you are testing for, but it might be enough for your home.
There are many of these kits sold online, and they range from $10 to $50, but you shouldn’t just pick random one and assume it’s good. The Watersafe Premium Drinking Water kit is a good way to go and sells for about $25. It tests for lead, bacteria, nitrates, and nitrites, which are the main things well water uses are checking for.
Testing For Lead
If you simply want to test for the presence of lead in your water, you should strongly consider using a professional lab, but affordable at-home test kits do exist. And because these kits are only checking for a single mineral they often cost under $25.
Something like EnviroTestKit’s Safe Home Do-it-Yourself Lead in Water Test Kit is easily findable at places like Home Depot (and many places online) and will detect the presence of lead in drinking water in 10 minutes. It’s great home but works for traveling as well. Total cost is right about $20.
Test Kits In Summary
All told, water testing kits are a fine option and something to consider instead of slow municipal testing or expensive private testing.
You won’t want to just pick off a test kit from Amazon and home it’s doing the job. The best bet is to pick a well-known kit, like those above, which are working with high quality, certified labs in order to deliver trustworthy results. If you need to limit costs or you have only one thing you are looking for you can find a sub-$50 kit but you should follow the instructions carefully and only shop from reputable brands.